The National Apartment Association and the National Multi Housing Council are calling on federal officials “to rethink their post-disaster housing strategies” and to house Hurricane Katrina’s victims in vacant apartment units rather than in manufactured housing units or other more costly housing.

“The Federal Emergency Management Association’s plan to spend billions to create isolated mobile home ‘cities’ makes it clear that they do not fully understand the housing resources already available to them,” stated Jim Arbury, senior vice president of Government Affairs for the NMHC/NAA Joint Legislative Program.

“The apartment industry is prepared to house these people right now,” he added. “Apartments are immediately available at affordable rates and without the need for any massive infusion of additional investment by the government. According to the Census Bureau, there are 1.1 million vacant rental units in the South, and three-quarters of them are located either in the unaffected portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, or in nearby states.”

Many firms are donating low- and no-cost apartments and short-term leases, the apartment groups also announced, “However, thousands of vacant apartments are being overlooked as the federal government relies on more expensive and less desirable housing alternatives.”

In testimony before the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity and in letters to House and Senate leaders, NMHC/NAA urged policy makers to grant a broad temporary waiver of existing affordable housing regulations so those units can be opened up to hurricane evacuees. They include Low-Income Housing Tax Credit properties, tax-exempt bond financed properties and properties accepting Section 8 housing vouchers, according to the announcement.

“Without this waiver, these properties have limits on the types and the sizes of households that can live in them. They require verification of household income, security deposits, minimum rent payments and specialized leases, and most prohibit short-term rental periods,” the groups stated.

The groups also urged FEMA to create housing vouchers to be used at these available apartment communities or contract directly with apartment owners for units. Finally, they called on FEMA to aggressively publicize the www.hurricanehousing.net Web site, which was created at the suggestion of FEMA to serve as a national registry of available vacant rental units.

“The apartment industry is committed to working with Congress and the federal agencies involved in the hurricane relief effort to find a realistic and practical solution to the tremendous housing needs of Hurricane Katrina’s evacuees,” said Arbury. “But we need to recognize that the scope of this disaster calls for new thinking and a new playbook, at least where housing is concerned.”

Copies of NMHC/NAA’s letters are posted at: http://www.nmhc.org/Content/ServeContent.cfm?ContentItemID=3609.

Additional information on the apartment industry’s response to Hurricane Katrina is available at http://www.nmhc.org/ and http://www.naahq.org/.

NMHC/NAA’s combined memberships are engaged in all aspects of the development and operation of apartment communities, including ownership, construction, finance and management.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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